Most of us don’t think twice about looking at our phone right when we wake up or buckling our seatbelt when we get in a car — we’ve done it so much, it’s become habitual.
So, just exactly what is a habit?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.”
In other words, it’s a behavior that’s become automatic.
Studies say it typically takes an average of 66 days to form a habit and for it to feel automatic.
So, as the New Year gets underway, what health habits are you going to change this year?
Whether trying to form a new habit, or drop an old one — be sure to phrase your resolution in a way that will line you up for success.
At the beginning of the New Year, people tend to be energized about forming or dropping habits, but by mid-February, up to 80% of people have lost motivation and quit their efforts.
There are strategies that can help, however.
To avoid being part of that 80%, be sure to make specific, manageable goals.
Break down your overarching goals into smaller, realistic goals — and then keep track of your progress on a weekly or monthly basis.
By breaking it down, you can create a plan — and that applies to any area of change in your life, whether it be healthy eating, improved fitness, better budgeting and so on.
The American Psychology Association says that planning in small steps is key to making changes and building self-control.
For example, if you want to cut back on added sugar, start small.
Begin with removing or replacing one or two foods or drinks at a time.
Maybe in January, you cut out soda and replace it with water, and then in February, you stop eating sweet desserts and swap it for fruit, and so on.
(Tip: The food label has officially changed for large food companies as of Jan. 1, so you can easily see how much added sugar is in a product).
Or, if you want to cook healthy meals at home more but you’re used to eating out four times a week, go down to three times a week at first, then twice a week, and so on, as you get more comfortable with cooking at home and learning how to meal plan.
If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym and you buy a gym membership, start by going just a couple of times per week instead of saying you will go five days right off the bat.
Five days a week may be your ultimate goal, but work toward achieving that over a period of weeks, rather than making it your starting point.
Changing any habit is challenging, so make gradual changes and celebrate the small wins along the way.
Speaking of small: A healthy weight loss should be small each week, from 1/2-pound to 2 pounds per week.
Losing a large amount of weight rapidly poses health risks, including slowing your metabolic weight, losing muscle mass, forming gallstones, and quickly regaining all the weight you just lost.
Another thing to remember is not to be too hard on yourself, if you lose focus.
Change is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
You will have off-days and slips.
That’s normal and to be expected.
So, don’t abandon your goals just because of one bad day. Know from the start that you will make mistakes along the way.
Instead of becoming discouraged, use the slip-up as a learning experience to determine what went wrong and how to keep it from happening again.
Oh, and one last thing, if your goal is to eat healthier, eliminate the word “diet.”
Dieting is typically associated with something temporary — a fad diet, a crash diet — but you want your new healthy choices to become a lifestyle — in other words, habits that will serve you, year after year.
So, here’s to a successful 2020 — adding good habits, and dropping bad ones, through manageable changes, one week at a time.
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Published January 22, 2020